CANTURIA, tonadas y sones
Rhythms and Songs of the Countryside

Pinar del Río is the westernmost province of Cuba. Its hills and valleys are known for their tobacco plantations and hot springs. The towns, with their few roads and eclectic buildings, are home to a mainly traditionally rural population. Stretching from Cape San Antonio to the municipality of Candelaria, the region harbours a diversity of music and dance forms mixing Hispanic – especially Canarian – and African influences, resulting in the typical "sauce" described by the scholar Fernando Ortiz. Everywhere different kinds of punto 1 accompany the tonadas 2; sones 3, some peculiar to the region and others locally adapted from those of other regions, are also heard here. Relaxing among friends and family or performing professionally, the artists express their love of nature and life through songs in the style of sones, tonadas and guarachas 4 invariably accompanied by the tres 5 or the lute as well as the güiro 6, in various claves.

In the larger villages and towns, celebrations and festivals such as verbenas 7 and serenatas have been traditional since the 19th century or perhaps even earlier, while in the countryside guateques 8, or canturías as they are also called, have been the tradition, exhibiting characteristic rhythmical drumming. Canturías take the form of friendly get-togethers or of cultural events where food and drink accompany the various types of singing, rhythm-making and dancing; the décima 9, or ten-line poem, and punto constitute the essential ingredients of these canturías.

The social changes affecting the Cuban countryside have brought it closer to the urban areas, increasing the cultural exchange between the two. As a result, some original folk expressions such as the guateques and the old tonadas, as well as the virtuoso executions on the lute – an instrument that came to replace the mandolin – have either been lost or become transformed. The efforts being made to preserve these art forms, by artificial reconstruction or by creating opportunities for poets and singers to meet, are therefore very important. The recordings on this CD are a result of this enthusiasm; they represent a variety of décimas played in puntolibre or cruzado, of Spanish tonadas and of sones
so old that the names of the composers have been forgotten.


The singers improvise on the basis of ten-line poems (décimas), either freely or according to themes decided on in advance. The melodies are generally passed down from generation to generation and have characteristic traits that enable them to be defined as "crossed" (cruzadas), "Spanish" (españolas) or "minor" (menores), and as rendered in "free point" (punto libre) or "fixed point" (punto fijo), according to the tempo of the melody and its relationship to the accompaniment. The singers also sometimes learn poems written by others by heart and integrate them into their tonadas.

Old sones and more modern ones, either originally from the region known as "vueltabajo" or stemming from other parts of the island through migration, are also part of the traditional repertoire at guateques; they are characterised by the alternation of couplets and refrains and contain solo passages on the lute, which emphasise the virtuosity of the player without compromising the rhythmical pulse.

The Cuyaguateje ensemble, named after the river that flows through a large part of the Pinar region, mingles forms of folk music from its western and central parts, not only in the repertoire played but also in being composed of artists issuing from different parts of the province. The ensemble constitutes an appropriate accompaniment to the voices of Juan Bautista Carrillo Serva and Jesús Padilla Concepción, as well as to that of Adelfa Velásquez, who demonstrates here her vast experience of the genre. The purely practical acquisition of his skills is revealed in the lute player's technical mastery of his instrument, which comes to the fore in the improvised passages, especially in the descarga 10 on track 10. For the improvisation, the tres and the guitar provide the harmonic support accompanying the voices and maintain the rhythm; this last function is also fulfilled by the güiro.

This set of recordings is designed to enable the canturía to spread beyond its rural context and to allow listeners to discover the fascinating world of pastoral styles of music and their particularities; in this way it will help preserve some of the authentic traditions of Pinar del Río and of Cuba: their tonadas, controversias 11 and sones.

Doris Cépedes Lobo


Translator's Notes

  1. Point. Punto guajiro is a singing style peculiar to the western and central rural regions of Cuba. It has a ternary rhythm, played on the guitar, the tres, the lute and small percussion instruments; it can be played in various modes: punto libre, fijo or cruzado.
  2. A tonada is a melody sung in punto guajiro.
  3. Son is a musical genre that is both sung and danced to. It originated in the countryside of the eastern provinces, and became transformed and urbanised in La Havana. It is one of the main genres of Cuban popular music.
  4. Guaracha is a fast tempo musical genre with satirical lyrics that originated in comic theatre. It has evolved into a dance rhythm influenced by son and is now a part of orchestra repertoires.
  5. The tres is a Cuban instrument of the cordophone family. Derived from the guitar, it has three double strings and is used for accompaniment in puntos and sones.
  6. The güiro is a Cuban instrument of Bantu inspiration, made from a gourd or calabash. It is ridged perpendicularly to its axis and played to accompany popular music by scraping it with a stick.
  7. A verbena is a public or private summer celebration, taking place on the eve of an important holiday. Verbenas are generally organised in the open air, in streets and gardens decorated with Chinese lanterns and streamers, where the dancing continues all through the night.
  8. Aguateque is a village festival peculiar to the western and central regions of Cuba.
  9. A décima is a sung verse of Spanish origin. It is composed of ten octosyllabic lines, improvised to rumba or punto guajiro.
  10. Adescarga is a Cuban version of a jam session, where the musicians improvise on a theme.
  11. A controversia is a duel between two singers improvising ten-line poems in the rural punto guajiro music.


CD tracks
  1. La Chindonga
    A very old son "montuno" from the island's mountainous region 1, author unknown.
    It refers to a country dance of the same name, during which the dancers compete to distinguish themselves. The
    güiro maintains the rhythmical pulsation, while the lute does the tumbao 2 and improvises during the instrumental passages.


  2. Guateque campesino (Village festival)
    The melody sung by the soloist alternates with a refrain-like chorus. The song tells of a country
    guateque, or canturía, by describing the way the participants dress up and the preparations needed for the festival. This type of son is specific to all celebrations and other events dedicated to rural music.


  3. Selección de tonadas (Selection of songs)
    Juan Bautista and Jesús Padilla sing a number of
    décimas devoted to women and love, in the manner of a poetic dialogue. The first are a few Spanish tonadas in the minor mode, which are rarely performed today; these are followed by songs in punto libre, where the instrumentalists play chords to provide harmonic support while waiting for the soloists to come in. In this friendly confrontation, the poets, basing themselves on established melodies, test each other's poetical and musical abilities.


  4. Tonada en punto libre (Song in "free point")
    A typical
    tonada of the Pinar region on a text by the poet Osvaldo Díaz. Díaz employs original imagery to express the feelings of the farmer and the meaning of his song, which serves to put those feelings across in the most authentic way.


  5. Décimas a Pinar del Río (Ten-line poems about Pinar del Río)
    Adelfa Velásquez sings some very beautiful poems describing the landscapes of Pinar. She uses a Spanish
    tonada having a kind of refrain filled with ornaments reminiscent of its origin. Cordophones freely accompany the singer 3.


  6. Décima paisajística (Ten-line poem describing the landscape)
    This piece is a
    tonada – the country genre par excellence – of the cruzada type found in the central provinces. The style is characterised by the way the voice marries with the instrumental accompaniment.


  7. Las praderas (The prairies)
    This piece, composed by Radeunda Lima, is based on the
    tonada espirituana form, played in punto libre and with refrain, and is probably the result of influence from primitive forms of son. It is an example of a variation rarely used today, but which from the 19th century used regularly to be performed at guateques, or canturías. The lyrics refer to landscapes, associating nature with love.


  8. Tonada espirituana 4
    This décima – exalting the performer's qualities and the bond he/she has to have with the audience – is in punto cruzado with a rhythm accompaniment. The voice merges with the accompaniment or contrasts with it on the off-beat.


  9. Paisaje campesino (Pastoral landscape)
    At the farmer's fêtes in Pinar del Río or other parts of the island, the poets and singers invoke the theme of nature in their improvisations. Frequently they use expressions like
    "oy lorei", which allude to the landscape of the countryside. Such expressions also serve to attract the attention of the audience and to emphasise the theme being introduced.


  10. Descarga montuna
    The musicians assembled at a canturía, stimulated by the dancers and wanting to show off their prowess and all their instruments' potential, will spontaneously start up a descarga, in which the son is accompanied by a tumbao (cf. note 2). On such occasions, the lute player will call upon all his/her experience in order to produce an exceptional improvisation, enriching the traditional music with dissonant chords otherwise rarely heard in the countryside.


  11. Conjunto de décimas (Collection of ten-line poems)
    Poets take advantage of every opportunity offered by
    guateques to show off their improvisations. These may include well-known quotes, in this case lines from the famous Cuban poet Indio Naborí honouring Pinar farmers, love, etc. These lines, in décima, are rendered according to the modulations offered by the lead instrument. The accompaniment is in punto libre, in order to facilitate the improvisation of the lyrics.


  12. El arroyo que murmura (The murmuring river)
    This piece is a
    criolla composed by Jorge Anckerman in the first half of the 20th century. Although it was conceived to be performed in the urban salons, its rural themes make it an attractive piece for farmers all over the island. In this performance of it, the singers Miguel Mijares and Adelfa Velásquez treat us to a highly lyrical duet that brings originality to the piece, along with the lute's "plucked" rendering.


  13. La rosa blanca (The white rose)
    These lines from the national poet José Martí have inspired many Cuban musicians and have been used in a wide variety of genres. In this vocal recording, they are rendered in the form of a
    tonada espirituana sung in duet.


  14. Al vaivén de mi carreta (Coming and going with my cart)
    This piece was composed by Ñico Saquito and is here interpreted by the Cuyaguateje ensemble. Originally, the lyrics expressed a strong social critique of farmers' living conditions. Today, it has been adapted to the present Cuban situation. The voice's phrasing and the presence of the chorus exhibit its relatedness to the
    son montuno.


  15. El niño del laúd (The child of the lute)
    José Martí's poetry is here given new life through the voices of Miguel Mijares and Adelfa Velásquez, to the accompaniment of string instruments in
    punto cruzado. The beauty of the lyrics' imagery is enriched with instrumental passages where the lute strikes up well-known melodies.


  16. Controversia (Controversy)
    controversia is never missing from village celebrations. Here, two poets improvise décimas to prove their superiority over each other. Sometimes the poets will compete to such a point that they find themselves in real conflict, but that is not the case in this poetical duel, which speaks of the performers' musical knowledge and their attachment to the countryside.


  17. El rabito del lechón (The piglet's little tail)
    sucu sucu 5, full of the double meanings characteristic of certain types of son, has been rendered by many Cuban groups. Although its terminology comes from the eastern region of the country, where the piglet stands for the male, it is a piece that is appreciated at guateques all over the country


Translator's Notes 

  1. The term "montuno", when referring to a son, refers to a section of improvisation where the soloist and the chorus alternate. It can also refer to the climax of the piece of music.
  2. Tumbao is the rhythmical-melodic ostinato that characterises all Cuban music. It is executed by a harmonic-melodic instrument, which in Cuban music is generally the piano, the bass, the guitar or the lute.
  3. In this way, the variation has no definite form, but adapts itself to the singer, who may interrupt the accompaniment at any time to recite her lines.
  4. "Espirituana" refers to the province of Sancti Spíritus in central Cuba.
  5. Sucu sucu is a musical genre belonging to the son family.
    Also in this collection:
    CUBA ● Isla de la Juventud Sucu Sucu Folk Songs and Rhythms Camaraco & Trio Los Pineritos ● Col.CD136